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Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation in moving the amendment but I have one question relating to it. What he said about the general principle of the extension seems rather to differ from what he said in a letter he wrote to those who took part in the Committee stage about non-executive directors.

That letter stated that,


That principle seems to be rather different from that which the noble Lord has just outlined in relation to the amendment. I find his letter rather surprising because it refers to "senior staff" and non-executive directors are not senior staff and never can be. Perhaps the Home Office should ask the Department of Trade and Industry for a description of what a non-executive director is.

I realise that the amendment which the Minister moved does not exactly relate to non-executive directors but the principle is the same. It seems to me that we are treating two rather similar groups under an entirely different principle. Perhaps the Minister will consider that issue.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward this amendment. It has given the Bill additional clarity because the Bill as originally drafted would have caused concern for those people who bring in additional staff, using contractors, because the question would arise as to whether or not they need to be licensed. Clearly, the Minister and the department recognised that they are not a suitable category to be licensed. Otherwise, anyone who hires a security firm would have to be licensed which would clearly be an unacceptable state of affairs. So as regards the amendment and the specific point which it addresses, I certainly welcome it and the constructive attitude which the Minister and the department have taken.

However, my noble friend has raised some interesting issues about non-executive directors, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply. It is slightly different in that non-executive directors are not necessarily the customer for the security services. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to answer the issues which my noble friend raised.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, acknowledged, the amendment is directed at managers, personnel directors of business and so on. It is the users that we are concerned with here. On the distinction as regards non-executive directors, I shall reflect on the point which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, raised, although it is not our intention to cover it by this amendment. I shall certainly seek clarification as to whether that area also needs to be covered.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 17

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7:


    After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--

REGULATED CLAMPING

(" .--(1) A licence shall not be required under section 3 of this Act for activities carried out to deter parking on private land without permission, which are conducted in accordance with regulations proposed by the Authority and contained in an order made by the Secretary of State.
(2) Regulations under this section shall include--
(a) maximum permitted charges for release of an immobilised vehicle,
(b) a requirement for the display of a notice describing how to obtain the release of an immobilised vehicle and the hours at which it can be released,
(c) a requirement that when a business owns or occupies the land in question the vehicle can be released at any time during the hours of business,
(d) a requirement that when the land is attached to a dwelling the vehicle can be released at any time during the hours of daylight when the premises are occupied, and
(e) such other regulations as the Secretary of State thinks fit.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put forward this proposition in Committee and received some sympathy from the Minister and others. But at the same time there was also some criticism of the particular formulation which I used and so I return to the charge here.

The underlying point is that I believe that properly conducted wheel-clamping is a valid way for someone to protect his property from rogue parking. Our debates have sometimes proceeded as though there are only rogue clampers and no rogue parkers. But we know that there are rogue parkers. After all, government and more particularly local government have acquired from Parliament over the years all sorts of powers to deal with rogue parkers, including clamping, fines, towing away and so on. So the phenomenon is well understood.

Of course, the more that local authorities attack people who park on the roads in various ways, the more people are tempted to park on a piece of private land that may happen to be available. It is not always easy for individuals to protect their own land which they use for parking by means of fences, gates and so on. For example, it is particularly inconvenient for a shop which wishes to have customer parking in an area where parking is difficult in the middle of a town or for an individual who has a house somewhere near the shops and wishes to park his car on his own land but finds that shoppers are inclined to park on it if he is not careful. That is why I thought it would be a good idea if, subject to a set of regulations to be laid down and varied as necessary if they were being misused, an individual should be able to clamp vehicles on his private land.

When we discussed the matter in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, expressed some sympathy for the idea but thought that it should be in a separate clause rather than as an amendment to a clause, which is how I drafted it at the time. I have therefore moved it into a separate clause.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 18

The Minister seemed to have some private sympathy with the idea but then read out the ministerial brief which was against it. He even envisaged using clamps to protect his own front garden in certain circumstances. However, I have tried to meet his arguments which were, essentially, that the amendment would open the door to clamping being carried out by criminals.

This formulation gives the authority the power to propose a set of regulations which would have to be followed by anybody who wished to use that power. And if he wished to go outside what was allowed in the regulations, then a licence would be required and he would need to go through all the hoops set out in the Bill.

I have also provided for the Secretary of State to keep Parliament involved in agreeing to the regulations. The regulations could easily say that no one with convictions--particularly unspent convictions--could clamp. The Minister also said that the regulations should be clear and robust. I agree. I am sure that the Minister did not intend to suggest that the Home Office is incapable of drafting clear and robust regulations. Of course, it is not. It can certainly achieve that with the assistance of the authority.

Finally, the Minister said:


    "it is an offence, with certain common-sense exceptions, to use a wheelclamp without a licence".--[Official Report, 30/01/01; col. 671.]

As far as I can discover, there are no common-sense exceptions in the Bill as it stands. This is an attempt to place some on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, for placing this provision in a new clause as opposed to an amendment to the schedule. However, I am concerned about the power being given to anybody to clamp on their land no matter what sort of land it is. It seems to me that this places in the hands of the public a draconian power.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, it is a liberal power.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, it is a liberal power from one point of view, but a draconian power from the point of view of the motorist. Most of us tend to wear both hats. I am a liberal but I am also a motorist. I am not sure that the two things marry. If the regulations specified the kind of land that would be appropriate to be designated, I believe that the clause would acceptable. I would like to hear more in relation to that before I gave my wholehearted support to it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I certainly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on his ingenuity and wit in bringing this new clause before us. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is more liberal than most on such matters, but perhaps I am closer to his position on the amendment than to that of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, putting on one side my initial sympathy.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 19

In Committee we made it clear that our intentions are twofold in relation to regulating wheelclamping on private land. First, we want to keep criminal elements out of wheelclamping and, secondly, we want to make the matter as simple and as straightforward as possible so that, when confronted with a demand for payment or release, the motorist is able to determine that the demand is made in accordance with the law and not in the form of blackmail.

The amendment introduced by the noble Lord is identical to, but in a different format from, that which was produced in Committee. It adds a provision enabling the Secretary of State to make such other regulations as he or she may think fit. As before, it would exclude wheelclamping that conformed to the requirements set out in the regulations from the requirement of a licence issued by the authority. I am afraid that, as before, we consider that the Bill, if amended in the way suggested by the noble Lord, would fail to meet both of the twin objectives to which I have referred. It would permit a loophole for those with criminal convictions to operate as wheelclampers and, sadly, it would not give the public the safeguard of being able to see the licence of anyone demanding a release fee.

Wheelclamping for a release fee is an industry which, if not regulated strictly, will attract nefarious and devious operators wanting to make easy money. I can see how that can be done. Without a licensing system, it is possible for anyone to seek employment, or to act in a self-employed category, without anybody knowing whether he has been involved in a criminal activity in the past. Under the licensing regime proposed under this Bill, the security industry authority would be able to check an applicant's past before granting a licence. It would be proper for the authority to refuse a licence where an applicant had a string of convictions for offences of violence against the person. Not only does the requirement of a licence screen out criminal elements, but it also makes it a criminal offence to operate without a licence as a wheelclamper for monetary gain

I accept that the regulations proposed by the noble Lord could go into considerable detail. They could be, as he says, robust. They could even require an adherence to a code of practice and participation in some sort of an appeals system, but the teeth that come with a robust licensing system, effectively, would be missing. We believe that it is most important that the authority has the power to withhold licences from those who are absolutely unfit to hold one and to withdraw licences from those clampers who fail to adhere to the conditions attached to them.

A further consideration is that we have already provided for some flexibility in allowing for employers who want to wheelclamp vehicles on their own premises and who can satisfy certain conditions to have just one licence that covers all their in-house employees engaged in wheelclamping.

5 Mar 2001 : Column 20

To sum up, we feel that this amendment would create in law a situation almost as ambiguous as the current, unacceptable situation. Although I may have sympathised with it, reality tells me that it would be unacceptable and probably unworkable.


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